Leo Tolstoy’s Anti-Colonial Views and Their Influence on Liberation Movements in Africa


Boris Gorelik


Leo Tolstoy is one of the few Russian thinkers of the pre-Soviet era whose views influenced leaders of liberation movements in Africa. Soviet researchers explored his anti-colonial views and their perception in the African continent. Although based on extensive source material, these publications are overly ideologized. The topic is reconsidered, using previously untapped archival data, as well as publications which appeared in Russia and internationally over the past thirty years. Tolstoy’s first attempts to speak out in the press about the colonial partition of Africa date to the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1895–1896. He denounced colonial expansion as an attempt by governments to distract their people from problems at home and force them to sacrifice themselves for business and political interests of others. Tolstoy advised people in metropoles not to take part in colonial schemes, and prompted colonised peoples to defend their rights through peaceful means so that the vicious circle of violence could be broken. His anticolonial rhetoric resonated in Africa, and from the beginning of the 20th century, his ideas were accepted as a guideline. M.K. Gandhi, a future leader of the struggle for Indian independence, who spearheaded a civil-rights movement of South African Indians in the 1900s, used Tolstoy’s ideas in developing his tactics of nonviolent resistance (satyagraha). Indirectly, these ideas continued to impact the South African liberation movement thanks to Gandhi’s influence. It was not until 1961 that the African National Congress (ANC) had to form a military organisation to fight against the apartheid regime. Yet the ANC managed to achieve a non-violent transition from apartheid to non-racial democracy. The success is associated with President N.R. Mandela, who shared Tolstoy’s views on the need to abandon armed confrontation.


colonialism, colonial partition of Africa, South African War, Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, humanism, satyagraha, nonviolent resistance




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